How to Show Your Secretary You Appreciate Her

how-to-show-your-secretary-you-appreciate-herReader L has a great question about how to show her appreciation for a new secretary who’s doing a great job:

I’m a young associate at a new firm and a few times recently, my secretary has helped me put together and file huge motions. Of course such filings are always done up against tight deadlines , so my secretary has stayed late to do this. What’s an appropriate way to show her how much I appreciate this? I barely know her and am much younger, so I don’t feel comfortable inviting her out to lunch. I rarely take a lunch break anyway. We have coffee, tea, etc. in the office, so bringing her a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts coffee tomorrow, doesn’t seem much of a gesture. I don’t want to buy her a gift, I just want to do something thoughtful to show how much I appreciate her help. Any ideas?

This is a great question — I’ve had older secretaries myself and I know how difficult it can be to strike the right tone!  We’ve shared stories about great support staff, discussed how to use administrative assistants, and talked about what to get secretaries for holidays — but we haven’t talked about small gestures of thanks for staffers.

– You’re new, she’s been helpful — make the time to take her to lunch!  (We’ve also talked about getting too friendly with your secretary, but one lunch certainly isn’t going to do that.)  Make the time for her — this is an important relationship, because a good secretary is like gold (whereas a bad secretary, well, isn’t).  Actually, this is such an important relationship that I would say that you should take her to lunch (or at least coffee) regardless of whether she’s gone out of her way to be helpful or not.  (Considering she’s been extra helpful, I might take her to a nicer restaurant near your office.)

– As a boss, there’s room to debate whether a reward (or even an outward show of appreciation) is appropriate for something that amounts to Just Doing Your Job.  That said, a cheerful kind word never hurts.

To be honest, I’m not sure I would do more than a lunch and a kind word.  You could get her a gift card to a local lunch spot for $10 or $20, but it always kind of stinks to put a dollar amount on how much their service meant to you.  You could say, “I’ll remember this at bonus time!” but that seems in poor taste also.  So I’d stay cheerful and appreciative (and I’d definitely get to know her over lunch to help form the relationship).  (And definitely make sure to have Administrative Assistant’s day on your calendar next month — Wednesday, April 24.)

Readers, how do you show a great secretary you appreciate her (when it isn’t bonus time)?  Do you have any tips for navigating the first lunch between a younger boss and her older assistant?

(Pictured above: table setting, originally uploaded to Flickr by cdn-pix.)



  1. mama of 2 :

    I send flowers to my assistant and that seems to generally be successful. You could bring in a nice plant if she’s into that. A pretty mug if she’s a tea or coffee drinker, or a nice food-gift – any of those things would go over well in my office.

    And lunch is a great idea. Really. Make the time.

  2. BrendaPatimkin :

    As an admin. who cares a lot about her job and her career- ask her what she wants out of *her career* and if there are new responsibilites or skills she would like to learn. It may be more than you think, and they may make her a better assistant.

  3. Anonymous :

    This may sound terrible, but I’m not sure lunch is such a great reward. When I was a paralegal, often staying late and traveling with the attorneys, I frankly felt like I had plenty of time with them and my lunch hours were either spent staying on top of my work, or taking a well-earned break with friends or alone to catch up on other things. I liked feeling appreciated, but a card or flowers would have been preferable. There’s also the fact that when you invite a supervisee to lunch she can’t really say no.

    I’d say consider that this is a hardworking woman who takes her job seriously, and if you want to gift her a lunch out maybe do a gift certificate that will cover her + a guest of her choice so she can actually unwind over her meal.

    • I agree and would suggest asking around your office if your secretary will do lunches with attorneys. We have several (excellent secretaries) in our office that have made it known that if you don’t want to have lunch with them on a normal day, then don’t bother asking for a “special occasion” because they feel it’s demeaning.

      I usually give a very sincere thanks, apologize for the deadlines at the time and afterwards, give her good reviews, and ask if there’s anything else I can do that would make her job easier. I seem to have a pretty good relationship with my secretary thus far.

    • Cash at year end.

      Listen to an Old, people.

      Cash at year end.

      • +1 on the cash at year end, but I’d also do an email to the secretarial supervisor and either cc my secretary on it or forward it to her.

    • Agreed. Many clerical personnel have enough of lawyers on their work time and would dread a lunch that they can hardly turn down. I’d go with cash at year end and a gift certificate to lunch for two. Then if she wants you to come along, she can ask you :)

  4. Part of her job is to help you put together motions and handle deadlines so try not to confuse that with her doing you a favor that necessitates a special thanks. Things you can do: -remember her good deeds come review time and speak her praises to her staff superior, a warm thank you with an acknowledgement/apology that you may have been grumpy under stress, bring her small tokens during the year (pick up a coffee for her, bring those leftover cookies from the client meeting, etc). Another thing that I try to be mindful of is that working late for her is more of an imposition pehaps than it is for me. So I try to get things to her ahead of time and give her a heads-up several days in advance so she can scamble any transportation/childcare/life-stuff changes.

  5. My dad told me NEVER to get to chummy with my secretarys b/c it is NOT good for a profesional woman litiegator like me, with a BA, JD and NY Bar admision to be to freindly with ladie’s who have not alot in common with me and who go for guy’s I long for sexueally but should NOT be dateing. FOOEY!

    But I do treat Lynn VERY nicely, and we go out about once a month shoppeing and I TREAT her to lunch! Lynn ocasionally sugests that she has a guy for me, but I do NOT folow her up, b/c it would be like me dateing Esteban’s freind, who is probabley grabbey like he is with Myrna’s body. FOOEY on that!

    The manageing partner is happy that the supermarket guy’s are going to give me another look, and he suggested we meet them at the Lamb’s Club. I wind up getting a SALAD there b/c there is alot of things I do NOT like to eat, but I do like a BIG salad and they have good dressing’s! YAY!g

  6. …Her? Really?

    • AnonInfinity :

      The question specifically refers to the secretary as “her.”

    • …You’re going to turn this innocent question into a discussion on sexism and the roles of women in the workplace? Really?

      • No, I totally agree. This post could easily have been titled “How to Show Your Secretary Your Appreciation.” The assumption that this person is a woman is inappropriate. And, in my case, incorrect because 2/3 of the admin staff on my legal team is male.

  7. Hair threadjack – tia!

    What do you do with second-day hair? Mine gets oily after a day and a half and I use dry shampoo, but I have trouble wearing it “natural” with dry shampoo (always have to straighten so it looks better). I wear it natural Day 1, straighten Day 2 and it’s an oily mess by the end of Day 2.

    Should I just bite the bullet and wash every day, and maybe get a shorter cut to make styling easier in the mornings? I figure I spend so much time trying to figure out how to style second-day hair that I might as well use that time to wash it.

    • Do you use the powder dry shampoo, or the waterless shampoo? I think the waterless shampoo works better for me, I go about a week. It doesn’t feel like it makes a difference when I put it in, but the next morning it feels pretty good!

    • big dipper :

      I’m not sure whether you are getting your hair wet and not washing on the second day, or putting it in a shower cap to keep it dry. But I’ve found that what works best for me is to get my hair wet on the second day, condition it, and then style – usually leaving it in its natural state. For me, it’s easier to style my hair when it’s wet. So, if you’re keeping it dry currently, that could be a solution.

    • I only wash my hair every two days. On the second day I always just wear it up, in a bun or whatever. Works great for me – is that an option for you?

    • just Karen :

      I can get away with second day hair if and only if I curl it the first day – then it magically is wonderful for two days. If I try to curl it the second day after leaving it straight the first, it’s a limp mess that won’t hold a style. The wonders of hairspray I guess.

    • Anonymous :

      I use a hair stick or fork to create a French twist.

  8. One of my mentors likes the phrase, “Don’t tell me what a great job I did, tell my boss!” If you are not her official supervisor, make sure that you let her supervisor know how things have been going–ideally, in writing, with a copy to your secretary.

  9. OK, maybe this makes me a terrible (or at least very grumpy) person, but I never got the whole “take someone to lunch as thanks” thing in this context. I can see it as a get-to-know-you thing when you first start working with someone. But once I have been working with someone for a while, I sort of resent the assumption that their gratitude = me spending my free lunch hour with them, even if that includes a free meal. In the OP’s situation especially, it essentially amounts to “you stayed late to help me file stuff, now come and sacrifice your lunch hour so I can thank you.” I am not saying people don’t sometimes appreciate it, but I think the assumption that this is what you should do is just so presumptuous. I actually work with someone for whom my old boss does occasional favors, and this person is always going on about how “I gotta take him out to lunch” and it always makes me laugh because I know that my old boss does not have any desire whatsoever to spend his lunch hour this way. But maybe I am in the total minority on this, who knows. I look forward to the other comments. If it were me, I would just buy the secretary a nice box of chocolates (or something similar that she likes) and write a heartfelt note saying how much I appreciate her help.

    • Anonymous :

      Exactly what I was getting at (posted at 2:13 pm above).

    • Diana Barry :

      +1000. I think I took my secretary to lunch ONCE when I was leaving the firm I had worked at for a few years. It was terribly awkward and neither of us had a good time. Lots of silences.

      My secretary doesn’t do much for me, but I always say thank you for everything, get her flowers on admin day and then a gift card at holiday time, and she seems pretty happy with that.

    • I am appreciative and love it when people take me out to lunch. I am cheap and usually bring a bag lunch so it’s a nice treat. I think it’s a great way to thank someone and never even considered that someone would find this demeaning or an inconvenience (obviously, let them know in advance so they can plan accordingly).

      • Anonymous :

        I guess this is a version of know-your-office, except know your recipient. Some people, many even, probably do view it as a nice gesture and appreciate being on the receiving end of it. Others, like me, would rather take lunch on their own terms.

    • Yup. Totally agree and exactly what I was saying above. Maybe I’m a grouch, but the assistant is doing her job by helping with filing. Yes, it’s later at night but presumably, she’ll get overtime. If she does a good job – let her know, let her boss know, and maybe buy her flowers or chocolates (I made mine some baked goods once as thanks), but don’t take up more of her time.

    • An alternative if going to lunch is too weird: buy your secretary [delivery/takeout] dinner to eat if you’re both staying late into the evening. It’s a less formal thank you but still a nice gesture.

    • I completely agree AIMS. I don’t want to be “on” with my boss during lunch if I don’t have to either.

  10. I used to be a paralegal, and I’m an attorney now. When I was a paralegal, I just didn’t get why all this last minute stuff had to happen, why certain things couldn’t be delegated sooner, or why there wasn’t more advance planning. While I would stay late when asked, it was always pretty irritating because most of the time, from where I was sitting, it seemed like the last minute late night work could have been avoided.

    Now that I’m a litigator, I get it.

    So while staying late is part of the job, it’s a really crappy part of the job because the support staff has zero control over it.

    So while some routine late nights here and there maybe aren’t a big deal, just remember what it’s like when you are near the bottom of the food chain, had to spend the day in the office waiting for assignments or doing non-deadline oriented work, only to have a massive project dumped on you as you are about to head out the door or go for your weekend. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the occasional huge inconvenience acknowledged with a little box of chocolates and a short “thank you for your hard work last night” on your desk?

    That said, I do think taking her out for a “get to know you” lunch can’t hurt.

    • Saacnmama :

      I think the key phrase there is “last night”. If you take a few days and then remind her next week, that’s got to be awkward, but something small & cheerful to give her a caffeine buzz/sugar high (if she isn’t diabetic!) or brightly colored flowered pot could easily be delivered with a smile about how much you appreciate her late night & will this help get her through the aftermath

    • I also used to be staff and am now a lawyer. I also didn’t get it. So now, I try to make it clear to the person helping me why this is so last minute. Sometimes it is “The client just got back to us and its due tomorrow.” Sometimes it is “There have been a lot of high priority, urgent projects this week.” And then I say, “I understand its frustrating to have things come up like this at the last minute.”

      I don’t know if it helps, but at least it acknowledges that I know the request is last minute and annoying. If I’d heard that when I was an office clerk it would have made me feel like I was a part of the team getting things done instead of like the boss didn’t think I had anything else to do that night.

  11. Anon Thinking of Divorce :

    Relationship TJ:

    I am about at the end of my rope with my husband. I’ve been lawyered up and ready to leave twice in the past few years and each time he convinced me to stay, and each time I regretted backing down. I think I am about ready to pull the trigger once and for all.

    My issue is that we have been married 15 years and if we stay married we are sitting fairly pretty in terms of retirement and finances. If we split, less so. What is particularly irksome is that I will likely be on the hook for spousal support, I will have to buy him out of what started out as MY house, and he will be entitled to half of MY government pension. I have figured out that I have (barely) enough time to pay off a new mortgage and recoup a decent amount of savings before I retire, but it’s going to be close and my standard of living will take a hit. And I will have to delay retirement to age 70.

    Any thoughts from the hive on whether it’s worth devastating oneself financially to get out of a pretty awful marriage? Any stories, personal or second-hand, about later-in-life divorces and how it worked out?

    • Anonymous :

      A supportive spouse can make all the difference in a successful career & parenting. I imagine a constant battle at home would have a corrosive effect. If he can buck up & be supportive, great, but what’s this about improving your standard of living by staying with a guy who’s tearing you down?

    • Well, even if your standard of living decreases from an economic perspective that should be offsett with an increase in your emotional state. You will be happier all around so may not notice the lower standard of living as much. Maybe you will retire earlier if you stay with him, but you’ll be… not working and spending more time with him.

      I think that separating from him is worth it in emotional dollars.

    • I really hope this doesn’t sound too harsh. I’m a lot poorer and younger than you, so that is probably affecting my perspective.

      I can’t even fathom choosing to stay in a bad marriage because I would have to give up half of a pension or have slightly less money. It doesn’t sound like you would be at risk of actually being poor, just slightly less comfortable. Isn’t your personal happiness worth what is probably a comparatively small amount of money?

      • Anon also :

        It doesn’t sound like a small amount of money, and going from a comfortable standard of living and financial cushion, to barely making ends meet. But as someone who is also young (ish) and unmarried, I think I’d rather be free emotionally to enjoy the remainder of my life than be well-off and miserable for those years. This is one big reason that I’m not married; Im not sure I want my financial state tied to another person, from a purely ideological standpoint. I understand that logically and financially, there can be benefits if it works out. The discrepancy in our incomes and financial state is such that I would prefer a prenup (though I’m by no means “wealthy”), but 20 years down the road, it would be painful to start over at half.

        TL:DR: I vote that you should be happy at whatever financial cost.

      • Anon Thinking of Divorce :

        It doesn’t sound too harsh, it just sounds like you’re a lot younger than I am!

        I had been operating under the assumption that I was 10 years away from a comfortable retirement featuring a paid-for house, nice trips, etc. I am now looking at being 15 years away from a retirement that will feature a mortgage and a whole lot less “etc.” We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars and to me that’s not a “comparatively small amount of money.” Especially since it is money I mostly worked hard for and earned and will be handing over to someone who didn’t earn it, and who is about to drive me out of my home because I just can’t stand living with him any more.

        That said, I’m thinking you’re right even when the numbers are big.

        • just Karen :

          Yup, it really really sucks, but I think the freedom is worth the money. It will be painful to take such a loss, but but better to move forward asap so you have more time to recover.

    • Seattle Lawyer Mom :

      I think it all depends on how you feel about your partner and your marriage. Financial costs are real, and you will think about them forever. But only you can decide if the marriage is salvageable. (FWIW, I know a professional woman with decent income and kids. She and her husband decided to split up several years ago, but for now have not divorced, because the financial impact was so complicated. Maybe if one of them wants to remarry eventually they will change that, but just tossing out there that for some people, an agreed and permanent separation may work.)

    • Anonymous :

      Any chance you can pay him off with a lump sum that will get him out of your pension? If there’s something he loves/wants to do you could offer something towards that? Lots of people are willing to take less NOW than more LATER. Working an extra few years, but having your pension intact seems worth it.

      Good luck!

    • Yes, it’s galling to think that you’ll be handing over a lot of money to someone who didn’t pull his share in order to get free. And probably even more galling because you may have gotten away with paying less if you’d done it when you were first ready. But that’s crying over spilt milk. So you didn’t keep full ownership of your house, don’t do that again next time. Consider that buying him out now is a lot better than buying him out in a vibrant market. And I like the suggestion to try to buy him out of the pension with a lump sum. How would it be if you saddled him with the big mortgage and got something smaller for yourself? Can you gather documentation about how little he actually contributed to common finances? That may help you in court. In any case, invest in a very good and aggressive lawyer.

      But mostly think of it this way: you already can’t stand this guy when you’re both working full time. How’s it going to be when you’re retired and you have to put up with him every single hour of the day?!? Will a divorce really be easier when you’re in each other’s hair constantly?

      My mother died young from the stress caused by a mean husband. Don’t think that staying isn’t taking a toll. It’s easy to count up the money you’d be giving up, but what misery takes out of your life in both quantity and quality is a lot, don’t overlook that just because it’s harder to quantify. It’s also easy to forget what a good life feels like when you’ve been miserable so long. You can use the money as a concrete resentment fund, but don’t let it stop you from concrete steps to future happiness.

  12. SV in House :

    I’m in house, so this may be less applicable in a firm, but use the following approach via email: “Dear Manager of Secretary, I want to let you know what a help Secretary has been as I have transitioned in to my new role. She has really helped me learn the ropes in XYZ area. I feel fortunate to have her as part of my team.” I also copy Secretary.

  13. Even though your office has coffees, teas, etc. (as does mine), I keep a big stash of $5 Starbucks gift cards for these occassions. (You could do itunes if she listens to music on the bus or something.) Everyone seems to appreciate them and uses them on the weekends or for a brain break to take a short walk for a special coffee. And $5 is the perfect amt. because it gets you a drink, which is just a “thank you” and not a gift, which is wierd if you’re just doing your job.

    • TO Lawyer :

      Yes I was going to suggest this too. If your secretary likes coffee, Starbucks gift cards are always welcome even if your office has coffee and it shows your appreciation without you getting her a gift for doing her job.

  14. It really depends on the person- I tend to bake cookies or other treats for my staff, but that is something I enjoy doing. Depending on your assistant’s interests, flowers, a plant, chocolates or a gift certificate are all great ideas. I understand not getting too “chummy” with your staff, but you can still be friendly with them and have an awareness of what their interests are. If they are always dieting, buying chocolates will not be appreciated!

  15. A lot depends on the person. My staff all know that I love to cook and are really happy when I bring in baked goods. So when I know they’ve been working their collective butts off, I’ll bring in something I’ve made. Does your secretary have a supervisor that she reports to or someone who’s in charge of all the support staff? If so, tell that person that your secretary has been doing a bang-up job.

  16. How about a handwritten thank you note — the kind that comes on nice stationery written with a real pen? It’s a simple gesture that says I know you worked hard and I’m going to take a little of my time to acknowledge it. And it’s more personal than just an email.

    • Now that is advice taken from some 1950s etiquette book, and totally inadequate in today’s business world. There’s nothing superior about handwritten. There’s nothing superior about written, unless her manager is cc’ed on the thanks, and their reason detailed. Please don’t burden the staff with meaningless claptrap.

  17. Anonymous :

    I just want to add that you should not avoid forming a relationship with your assistants just because there is an age gap. First, they can be invaluable to you in any number of scenarios, and getting a little beyond a merely professional relationship will help ensure you’ve got their support/insight. Second, work is one of the few places you can make friends outside of your immediate demographic pretty easily. I’ve benefitted greatly in my life from such friendships. I even hosted a 60th birthday party for a former assistant, long after I’d left the firm, and have considered her 60-y.o. friends some of my own closest friends and favorite people ever since. They have a lot to offer, and enjoy and benefit from having young people around them, as well.

    • Anonymous :

      I love this and appreciate your saying it. While it’s much easier to make friends in the same stage of life as you (young and single, parents of small children, fellow volleyball players, whatever) it is so much richer to have friends across the spectrum.

  18. Former legal secretary, then paralegal, now in-house law clerk here. Have BTDT with the midnight filings and that’s one reason I fled litigation after a certain number of years. I agree with everyone who says DON’T take her to lunch. But do send a kind note (even if just to her!) expressing appreciation or bring her Starbucks when you are on your way in and already getting your own. A gift card is never a bad idea or just a nice trinket from one of your business trips. I appreciated the kudos, particularly the public kudos, and the recognition. One of the BigLaw firms used to give out $100 AmEx cards but it remained the notes and small gestures from the partners and associates that meant the most. So glad to now be in-house where some of these political matters don’t seem to be such an issue (mostly because we don’t have assistants. :) )

  19. How can you show your “secretary” you appreciate her, you ask? I’ll tell you… start by NOT calling her my secretary as many find the term quite antiquated and demeaning…

    • Blonde Lawyer :

      We use assistant at my firm but I feel like that also has a caste like tone to it. What word do you like?

      • Second this. Assistant or PA at my firm seems to be the norm, but I also want for a better term.

    • Why? I understand not calling him/her the wrong title (i.e., if your office refers to him/her as “legal assistant,” etc.) but why is the title of “secretary,” in itself, demeaning? There are secretaries in this world. Your comment is demeaning to them.

    • Agree! This really rubbed me the wrong way. Administrative assistant. “Secretary” is for Mad Men.

    • Actually, in law, there is a distinction in many places between legal secretaries and legal assistants (the latter being similar to a paralegal, vs admin staff). So while this would smack many in non-law professions as really awful, it’s completely normal in the legal field.

      • SDOfCounsel :

        And some secretaries/assistants are vehement about being called one or the other. My secretary will affirmatively correct someone who calls her an assistant or legal assistant. She has said repeatedly that she is a secretary, likes being a secretary and is not an assistant – legal, personal or otherwise.

      • Houston Attny :

        Exactly right. There are actual differences between legal assistant and legal secretary and using the wrong term in e-mail signature lines or correspondence, for example, might even get you in hot water with the state bar.

    • lucy stone :

      My secretary (who is awesome!) prefers to be called secretary. We asked her if she wanted a title change during a reorganization and she said no. I think part of it is that my job title has Assistant in it and being Assistant to the Assistant XX sounds weird.

    • Anonymous :

      oh my god. My secretary’s official position title is secretary. Are you serious? Why would a job title be demeaning? Although I do find attorney demeaning. From now on call me doctor!

    • Alanna of Trebond :

      I disagree with this. Why is secretary demeaning? Because it is a historically predominantly female profession? Because it means that you are not in charge?

      Plus, I don’t think anyone uses the word secretary as an insult, as is common with other non-PC terms (e.g. retard).

    • Seattle Lawyer Mom :

      If her job title is “secretary,” call her that. It’s ridiculous to think that’s a demeaning title — just because it’s a job that’s been done by women? I’m pretty sure we don’t think “mother” is a demeaning title.

    • Anonymous :

      “Secretary” originally meant “secret keeper” and was traditionally a masculine role (which is why the positions in the Cabinet are still “Secretary of State,” “Secretary of Defense” etc.). Only in the 20th century did it become a “feminine” job and thus a “dirty” word. The only problem with the word is if you have only refer to women as secretaries and refer to their male counterparts as something else.

      Otherwise, being pissed off about the word “secretary” is actually just bashing a perfectly neutral term for becoming feminine. Which is pretty sexist, don’t you think?

      (Nurse is an even MORE fun one because “to nurse” has come to mean “to breast feed” when it just meant “to care for” and applied equally to men and women.

  20. A sincere thank you -verbally and in writing – goes a long way. If your assistant truly goes above and beyond, perhaps copy the email or send a separate email to HR and definitely remember the circumstances at review time. A small plant/bouquet of flowers, gift card, etc. is entirely appropriate, so long as you know your office and know your assistant’s likes/dislikes, as others have discussed.

    My assistant recently suffered a major family health emergency and was out for over a week. A small bunch of flowers and a face-to-face chat putting all the assignment emails I’d sent to her during her absence into perspective and showing empathy for her situation has helped her to readjust, which I felt was crucial to her performance in the short term, and in not resenting me and/or her job in the long term.

  21. Harry and David pears.

  22. Anonymous :

    There is nothing so helpful as an email to a supervisor — whoever it is that ultimately evaluates the secretary for a pay raise (or even continued employment). It costs you no money and very little time, but is valuable for the secretary or assistant and will usually encourage future efforts to help you out in a pinch.

  23. My secretary drinks lattes, not black coffee. I don’t know what kind of coffee/tea is available at L’s work but my secretary is very appreciative when I bring her favorite latte from her favorite coffee shop. I would also consider getting her a pound of her favorite coffee or a bottle of her favorite wine.

    I expect my assistant to stay late when necessary, but her attitude is what makes the experience not a nightmare for me. I regard her good attitude as a personal favor, for which I should show my appreciation with a small personal token that communicates my appreciation of her as a person.

    Also, if this keeps happening, I would discuss how she want to handle it. I tell my assistant a few days in advance if a large deadline is coming up and we discuss what she can start doing ahead of time (e.g. labeling exhibits or finding the expected exhibits in the file and converting them to PDF so she doesn’t have to search for them later). I think she likes the feeling of being in control it gives her, as opposed to being helpless in the face of my unexpected whirlwind at the last minute.

  24. Anon cause Im cranky :

    I don’t understand the idea of not being “chummy” with your secretary. When I was young and worked in a firm, I wasn’t chummy but too nice, hated to go back to them with changes/corrections/feedback, and frankly, the secretaries treated me like shit. When they did things wrong and I corrected them (a 30 page brief with “nose” instead of “knows”) they would sigh and roll their eyes. They didn’t like me, I think, because I was an “other.” I don’t practice any longer, but I have worked with several secretaries/assistants and I treat them like I would treat any other colleague. I don’t buy gifts (I also don’t have the same deadlines) but I give an end of year gift certificate, am consistently friendly, and always say thank you. I do have to hear a lot of personal stuff I’m not necessarily interested in, but that’s what being a boss is. You have to know what’s going on with your people, because it does affect their work, secretary or no. And I think they appreciate being treated as an equal. They have given me a lot of hook ups over time, and have even helped me get the job when I’m interviewing and chat them up. No reason not to be chummy if you can also still deliver constructive criticism when needed. Why would you not want to work with someone towards whom you feel friendly?

  25. Anon cause Im cranky :

    Also, to show her you appreciate her, why not just make a point of saying so: “I really appreciate that you stayed late to help me with those briefs in the last few weeks.” If you want to know if it bothers her, say, “You’ve got much more experience than I do here – have you had to do that a lot? I know it’s a bummer, but we had just gotten changes back from the client and the filing was due the next day. I’ll try to give you a heads up in the future if I can if I see something like that coming up .” You can also show your concern for her time, “If you ever are in a position where staying late is an absolute impossibility, let me know so we can work something out., but I’m sure you’ve done it enough to know that we really need your help when we’re on a tight deadline like that. We really rely on you for those tight times.”

  26. Get her a gift certificate to a nearby lunch spot & send her a note of appreciation with a copy to her supervisor and the person who does her performance review.
    As a former admin & a former supervisor of a professional staff, I would recommend against inviting her to lunch. That is her time.

    I also disagree with the sentiment that a person should not be rewarded for “just doing their job.” I’ve worked in places that have had quite a bit of turnover when that was the prevailing sentiment. People know when they’re doing a great job & they also keep track of your failure to acknowledge it.

  27. If you really appreciate your Office Assistant, how about you don’t call him/her a “Secretary” unless that is his/her actual title? I’ve been an Office Professional for almost 20 years, never once working under the title of Secretary, many times having more responsibilities than those within my office. However, because I’m an Assistant, it’s automatically assumed by 80% of the people in my office that I’m a Secretary. Nothing infuriates me more. It’s degrading. It’s like calling an Architect and Construction Worker – two very different jobs of training, abilities and expertise.

    It’s degrading and whether he/she shows it or not, your Assistant does take offense to being called a Secretary (the bottom job position within the Administrative Professional career field). If your office does this, correct it immediately! Especially if you want your Office Assistant to feel respected and valued as part of the team.

  28. Agreed! There is nothing wrong with the word secretary.

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